By Sam Meacham
Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 2001, Vol. 16, No. 3
The rain has come and gone. What will soon become Tropical Depression Allison has just passed over the jungle campsite where I work, unleashing torrential rain for five straight days. As the clouds part, the jungle comes back to life, rejoicing at the end of another dry season. Water cascades 12 meters down into the cenote which opens up before me. "How did I get here?" I wonder as I wring out my clothes and slap the mosquitoes away. "And why is there no other place on the planet I would rather be than right here?"
I can answer both questions with one word: adventure.
If I had to choose the major influences that have guided me to this particular point on Earth there would be three. Growing up without television instilled in me a vivid imagination and a strong curiosity. Going to summer camp gave me a deep love and appreciation of the outdoors. And a NOLS Semester in Kenya opened the door to adventure by taking my curiosity and love of the outdoors and giving me the tools and confidence to apply them anywhere on planet Earth.
The single most important lesson learned by me during that semester was the importance of communication where English is not the first language. I apply it today in the Yucatan as I attend local meetings to ask permission to explore, and carry on with my full-time existence here. My Spanish is quite good now, and my Maya breaks the ice. Aside from the basic sign of respect one shows by attempting to speak the language of the country you are in, the doors that it opens and the meaningful relationships it brings cannot be underestimated. I would not be able to accomplish anything here were it not for my language skills.
In addition, the NOLS minimum impact philosophy is one that I try to employ on all projects. It is especially difficult to adhere to this philosophy in areas where an ecological awareness barely exists, but with patience and persistence slowly a difference can be made.
Life is a series of decisions, I am happy with the ones I have made, and glad that NOLS was one of them.
Editor's note: NOLS alumnus Sam Meacham took a semester in Kenya in the fall of 1985.